Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Quest

You know what the worst part of having eczema (or just about any other skin issues) is?  It's that people look at you and there's a reaction to how you look.  As a kid, most other kids used to stay as far away from me as possible because they were afraid of catching whatever it is that I had, no matter how many times I'd explain that a genetically inherited condition wasn't contagious.  Of course, after seeing my nth dermatologist who was able to prescribe me a successful cocktail of topical steroids combined with low-strength sleeping pills (to "calm my nerves", apparently), I was able to finally get my eczema under control in high school and beyond.

Over the years, I became disenfranchised with having to apply my steroidal ointments all the time.  Eventually, I stopped taking the sleeping pills and started to slowly wean myself off the ointments.  When I went Paleo, talk about a game changer!  For once, my rashes were slowly going away for good.  And whenever I did have them, I didn't feel like the layers just underneath the surface of my skin were on fire.  Which, I have to tell you, is the SECOND worst thing about my eczema:  feeling like you are on fire just underneath your skin.  And not just a regular fire, but a fire that's feels like it's being fueled by ALL the combustibles.  A fire so hot that you may as well be the sun, warming all the things around you.  And every scratch you try to not make but make anyway makes it even hotter, if that's even possible.

What with all the changes I've been going through the last couple years, my skin was finally starting to look as healthy and awesome as when I was a Paleo newbie.  Family and friends were telling me how much healthier I looked, how awesome my skin was looking, and how I was just positively radiating all kinds of happiness.  In fact, when I look back, I have to say that I was looking pretty damn good on my birthday last year (celebrated with some really awesome friends at Chris Cosentino's Cockscomb).  Yes, I wore makeup, but I can proudly say that it was just eye makeup (eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara).  I feel even almost ashamed to admit that whenever I looked in the mirror, I thought that I was beautiful, like radiantly beautiful.  Finally, here was the person I always felt that I was meant to look like.

Flourless chocolate cake and ice cream for moi!

Not long after, I started to slide.  There's nothing specific that I can actually pinpoint.  Even though I gave up smoking a looooong time ago (yes, I used to be quite the heavy-handed smoker who used to smoke up to two... count 'em, TWO packs a day), I found myself picking it up again.  And only on the weekends.  Weird, right?  I never craved a cigarette during the week but it was so easy for me to light one up whenever my cousin and his wife would light up.

In addition to the weekend smoking, I had a really hard time with both falling asleep and STAYING asleep.  It was always the absolute WORST on Sunday nights when my boys return with their father to begin another week at school and oftentimes, I just didn't end up sleeping at all.  I'd be exhausted when I made it in to work and as soon as I got home, I'd just crash and nap for a few hours.  Which also really sucked, because that meant that I would have a hard time with sleeping that night, and the night after, and the night after that.  Even when my boys were with me, I couldn't sleep because I wanted to enjoy every single moment of being able to snuggle and cuddle with them, knowing that I wouldn't get to do so for another week.  Eventually, I took to drinking a hard alcohol at bedtime to help me get drowsy enough.  And as these things go, I found myself getting to work some mornings and realizing that I was still a tad drunk from the night before.  Since this was obviously becoming an issue, I made the switch to using Valerian root instead.

My diet also started to slowly slide downhill.  I'm with a small company and being that there's only 7 of us, a lot of the times where we'd have company lunches, it would be sandwiches or pizza.  I tried to bring my own lunches and food a few times, and while I wasn't ostracized for not partaking of the food, I wasn't exactly cheered on either.  

Honestly, I wanted to cry.  All the damn time.  I hated missing my children.  I hated the fact that I was sliding downhill.  I hated the fact that I was sliding downhill when I really should be showing them what a strong and independent woman is all about.  Eventually, my rashes spread throughout my body and I was back at the point where I felt like my entire body was on fire.  My face, my scalp, my neck, my ears, my shoulders, my back, my arms, my hands, my fingers, my trunk, my feet.  It even got so bad that both my thighs were so severely bruised from my hard scratching and my bedsheets would have spots of dried blood on it.  The negative feedback loop was really spiraling out of control.

Eventually, I realized that I really needed to make the change.  The very first step was having to admit that I was really depressed.  I wasn't coping well at all.  In the last year, I've moved out on my own back to my hometown and I've changed jobs.  I don't have very many super close friends and those who were were busy planning their weddings, taking care of their families, or just plain lived too far away and had their own lives.  While I know that if I knew I had a really close friend who was in my situation, I'd be MAD AS HELL that my friend didn't reach out to me, no matter how busy I was, my personality is such that I just want to trouble people with my issues as little as possible.  A very I'll-always-be-there-for-you-but-don't-you-worry-about-me mentality.  Not that I needed to be with someone all the time, especially since I'm actually quite an introverted person, but I definitely felt alone without having a solid support structure in place.  Sure, I have my wonderful cousin and his lovely wife, but I also needed someone to really give me a good, hard kick to my ass and scream some sense into me.  Coincidentally enough, it's my cousin's younger brother David (who I've always treated as a younger brother) who, whenever I did see him, would give me that look.  You know which look I'm talking about?  The look that says what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-because-I'm-worried-as-Hell-for-you.  

So with all that, I decided that I really needed to take back control of my life again.  I had to control my rashes and my life with all the means at my disposal.  I realize that this is a little over a month into my quest so it doesn't really count as a set of "Before" pictures but here you go:

You can see the inflamed skin of my eyelids and my cheeks and jawline.  Believe it or not, but this is already 80% better than it was when I resolved to do better.

My cheeks, jawline, and neck.  Just as with my eyelids, this is also now significantly better because the skin is just dark pink/light red and the area has shrunk by a lot.  You can still see vestiges of the rash that was so effing persistent on my clavicle and the upper part of my chest.  The best part of my quest is that right now, I don't feel like the layers under my skin are burning anymore.  If it is, it's hardly noticeable.

Of course, I also had a couple weddings to go to and I was absolutely mortified at the prospect of going looking the way that I did.  Thank God for makeup!  And thank God for Hayley for having told me about Jane Iredale and her fabulous line of war paint!  Instead of looking terrible, I managed to look pretty decent.

But all that lowering inflammation stuff wouldn't be possible if I didn't make small changes in my life.  Starting with how my day begins.  I spend about 15 - 20 minutes in one of the nice conference rooms here in my building meditating and slowing down my thought processes as much as possible.  I usually start with Standing Tree to get my mind to slow down, to focus.


Which, I think, is pretty freaking easy to do when this is your view:

A view of the Bay

After Standing Tree, I'll do a couple of super basic yoga moves:  Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Warrior 1, and Warrior 2.  If anything, this has really helped me with my neck and back since I was in a pretty rough car accident back in February.  In general, it's just good that bend that way since I work at a desk and at a biosafety cabinet a lot and I'm usually hunched over.

And of course, now that I have my Magic Bullet, I'm following up with my Super Detox Anti-Inflammation A$$-Kicker (recipe coming soon), filled with all the awesome anti-inflammatory stuff I can possibly fit in.  And, by the way, I also drink this at night right after dinner as my dessert.  All this by 8am too!

Getting my green 'stache on

Last but not least, I've really cut down on my drinking to social occasions (I'm sorry, I won't go dry during Happy Hours with good friends) and I quit smoking (again!).

In the last month since I started this Anti-Depressant and Anti-Inflammation quest, I've been sleeping better.  I fall asleep with way more ease than I have in the last 6 - 7 months, and it's easier to STAY asleep because I'm not waking up drenched in hot sweat and itching like crazy and having to get up and douse myself in baby powder.  I'm learning to cook for 1 - 2 people (2 because I actually need to eat something for lunch the next day) and so far, I have no complaints.  Well, okay... I do have a complaint.  The parking at my Trader Joe's.  That parking lot is just too damn tiny and a trip there feels like a trip to Costco.  It seriously feels like the entire population of my town converges on that tiny place at the same time, which is most hours of the day.  Who do I have to heckle to build a 5-story parking garage???

Back to the inflamed skin and depression business, yes, I'm frustrated that my skin isn't magically bouncing back to what it was on my birthday last year.  I'm still using the topical steroids I was prescribed, but now I'm using the lowest strength ointment about once a week (as opposed to the stronger one every other day, if not every day).  So I'm constantly reminding myself that it took me 7 months to get to my low point, so it's going to take me quite a few months to get myself back to where I need, and should, be.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

Herb Roasted Chicken

The funny thing about cooking with fresh herbs is that it's not really an Asian thing.  Scratch that.  There are a lot of herbs that are used but thyme?  Sage?  Rosemary?  The first time I ever tried rosemary was when I was a teenager and my aunt was baking rosemary bread in her fancy schmancy breadmaker.  I remember the smell was so heavenly and I really wanted to sink my teeth into this amazing goodness except that this bread was weird.  It wasn't just plain ol' white and the fact that it wasn't was just weird.  When I finally caved in and ate it, it was all kinds of awesomeness and I ended up constantly bugging my aunt to make it.

Now that I've been more conscious about eating foods that are not only good for decreasing my histamine levels but are really good for decreasing my overall inflammation levels.  Doing so means making an effort to step outside of my comfort levels and learning to cook with fresh herbs (herbs that are totally foreign to the Chinese palate anyway) instead of dried.  Cooking with the freshest ingredients possible is good for decreasing your histamine levels since histamine levels are at their lowest (histamine levels are at their lowest when the plant it is still planted and growing and when the animal is still moving and increase the longer it is dead).

Because of everything I've been going through the past couple years, it's been really difficult finding the inspiration or the time to play with food in the kitchen.  I found myself eating out a lot, or just buying the type of food that heats up easily in one pot or in my little toaster oven (I don't have a microwave) and overall not getting a very good variety in my diet, hence all my skin, digestive, and mental issues.  A good place to start, besides my budding herb garden, is always chicken so why not throw them together and see what comes of it?

Herb Roasted Chicken

-  a few sprigs of rosemary

-  a few stalks of garlic chives

-  a few sprigs of oregano

-  about 10 sage leaves

-  a bunch of lemon thyme

-  2 tbsp of your favorite extra virgin olive oil

-  your favorite salt (to taste)

-  freshly cracked pepper (to taste)

-  2 whole chicken legs

1.  Using kitchen scissors, finely cut up all the washed herbs into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag (definitely take a moment to appreciate the fragrant goodness!)

2.  Toss in the chicken along with salt, pepper, and olive oil

3.  Massage the CRAP out of everything in the Ziploc bag, making sure that the chicken legs are evenly coated with all the ingredients

4.  Let marinate in the fridge overnight

5.  Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Place pan on baking sheet.

6.  Roast chicken for 40min.

7.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Beef Chow Mein

Let me start this repost with THE BIGGEST, ABSOLUTELY HEART-WRENCHING APOLOGY I can possibly muster from every single atom of my being.

Holy cow, but kelp noodles are really hard to work with!  When I first made this, it was with kelp noodles and for a few months after having posted this, the noodles were absolutely perfect!  Maybe it was just that lot but thereafter, it was incredibly difficult trying to get the noodles to soften up and be noodle-like.  Ugh... so for ALL of you who were using the original recipe, I'm truly TRULY sorry!  Seriously, let me make it up to you with a suitable replacement:  Korean sweet potato noodles!  See?  It's grain-free and totally Paleo!

I found these while browsing through the aisles of my local Asian grocery store a couple years back and it's been a game-changer for the noodle-lover in me (Asians can be grouped into one of two categories:  those who love rice, and those who love noodles).  To me, there's not much of a taste, which makes it perfect (for me, anyway).  Chow mein is seriously one of my absolute go-to's as far as meals go.  It's like fried rice, in that just about anything and everything you have in your fridge/freezer that you need to get rid of can ABSOLUTELY go into it and it'll come out pretty freaking awesome.  In my case, all I had was some beef and a getting-sadder-by-the-day head of Napa cabbage so the following recipe is pretty pared down and very, very simple.  So feel free to add whatever other veggies/proteins that you like and enjoy the results!

Again, I'm really, really, really, REALLY sorry about the old recipe and I truly hope that this simple one totally makes up for it.  I will continue to work on this to snazz it up more so that the end result is totally freaking awesome, so stay tuned!

What you'll need:

-  1lb of beef, sliced into bite-sized slices

-  ~1/2 medium-sized Napa cabbage, chopped


-  1/3 bag of Korean sweet potato noodles

-  5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

-  small thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely julienned

-  1 tbsp finely ground white pepper

-  3 tbsp of coconut aminos

-  3 tbsp of fish sauce

-  1 tbsp of sesame seed oil

-  pink Himalayan salt (for taste)
-  freshly ground black pepper (for taste)
-  cooking fat of choice (coconut oil, lard, olive oil...)

1.  Add coconut aminos, fish sauce, and white pepper to beef

2.  Mix thoroughly and let sit for at least half an hour

3.  While your beef is marinating away, go ahead and boil the noodles as per package's directions

4.  Heat your cooking fat of choice (I use pastured lard) on a pan over high heat

5.  Add the marinated beef and brown.  Then set aside.

6.  In the same pan, add a little bit more (about 1 tbsp) of your favorite cooking fat over medium heat.  When the pan is heated up, add your ginger and sauté until fragrant (about 1 min)

7.  Add garlic and sauté until fragrant (about 1 min)

8.  Add the Napa cabbage

9.  Stir-fry for about 5 min, or until the cabbage is softened enough for your taste (I like mine halfway crunchy)

10.  Add browned beef

11.  Mix everything thoroughly

12.  Drain those fabulous sweet potato noodles

13.  Add the noodles to the beef/cabbage mixture

14.  Mix everything together as best as you can.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your taste.  Turn off the heat and add sesame seed oil.  Mix thoroughly.

15.  Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Anti-Inflammation Garden Therapy

The weather in the Bay has been getting more and more awesome by the day, which is good because I've really been needing some fresh air, beautiful sunshine, and warm weather to help me chase away the blues.  I know we really, really need the rain (California is still in a drought) and I'm honestly hoping and praying for more but in the meantime, I'm taking advantage of this gorgeous weather!  After all, sunshine is seriously one of THE BEST things you can possibly do when you're feeling down.  And no I did not apply any sunscreen (funny story about me and sunscreen for another time) and no I did not get sunburned (thankfully!).  Whenever I felt that I was getting overly toasted, I'd just run into the shade and rest for a bit.

Before I show you what I did, let me introduce the plants that I already have.  Some I picked up at a nursery, others from horticultural hobbyists I found from Craigslist, while others yet from sheer laziness from having waited too long to cook them.

That would be blueberry (super awesome for inflammation, since it's got the lowest sugar content of fruit and is absolutely chock-full of antioxidants), sweet potato (is anti-inflammatory, high in Vitamin A, and has antioxidants), yellow onion (onions contain quercetin and Vitamin C, which work synergistically to combat inflammation), golden raspberry (raspberries have antioxidants like Vitamin C and quercetin), lingonberry (contains quercetin), lemon thyme (thyme contains phenolic compounds that combat inflammation), rosemary (along with being a powerful antioxidant, helps to increase superoxide dismutase activity which decreases inflammation), blackberry (also contains quercetin), and aloe vera (contains anthraquinone, which is a pain reducer, and gibberellin, which inhibits inflammation).

And over here, we've got a Thai chili plant (chilies contain capsaicin, a potent inflammation inhibitor), lemon verbena (contains aldehydes that are key in reducing inflammation and are sedating), aloe vera, garlic chive (contains antioxidants that are instrumental in its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties), and a couple of Meyer lemon trees (citruses contain the ever-so awesome Vitamin C and other antioxidants important for fighting inflammation).

Lucky for me, I also got to dig around my cousin's (no, no that cousin!) backyard where we managed to plant 6 Sun Gold tomatoes...

... zucchini right there in the front, watermelon in the rear left, and a blueberry in the rear right.

Finally, some strawberries and a sugar pea.

To tell the truth, after discussing the whole plant situation with my cousin, I'm adding another blueberry plant along with a couple of thornless raspberry plants.  With our 5 boys all under the age of 7, we're keeping our fingers crossed that the kids won't be able to pick ALL the berries and just might... MIGHT!!!... save a blueberry, a raspberry, and a strawberry for us adults.

The funny thing about gardening (for me, anyway) is that I used to absolutely SUCK at it.  Over the years, I've picked up tidbits here and there and started out with the plants that were black-thumb-tolerant.  You know, plants like tomatoes and zucchini.  I've learned a lot over the years but the best part is really just getting to do stuff and getting your hands in the dirt.  Even little things like going through everything and just watering has so much satisfaction that you can't help but step back and admire your handiwork.  Yes sir, I've definitely come a long way when it comes to growing stuff outdoors.  I still absolutely SUCK at the indoor ones (it probably doesn't help that my apartment doesn't get a lot of natural light) but hey, it's half the battle, right???

One of the first projects I wanted to tackle was building pallet gardens for my patio.  I got the big pallet from when my Mom and stepdad bought me a crazy awesome coffee table, which was a really good thing because I couldn't figure out how I was going to get a regular-sized pallet attached to the roof of my Prius without completely damaging the roof.  The cute little baby pallet actually came from my work when we were able to buy a super-duper expensive piece of equipment.

The hardest part of putting the pallet gardens together?  Not having a small enough staple gun!  I was trying to get away with just borrowing my uncle's but eventually I caved and went to the hardware store (lucky for me, it's just across the street) and found one that could just fit in between the slats.  All in all, I spent about $40 trying to put the whole thing together which, for me, included the landscape fabric, the staple gun, and staples.

What little garden is complete without something to compost in?  Unfortunately, I didn't want to drop money on a compost bin or tumbler so I did a quick Google search and found some really great ideas on hacking my own.

I spent $20 at the hardware store for two of the blue tubs.  Since I didn't have an electric drill, I just hammered a Phillips screwdriver (it's pointy enough, right?) several times through the bottom of one of the tubs (I was a little overzealous with one and ended up creating a huge crack through a quarter of the bottom).  Oh well, that's okay because I needed something for the juices to flow out of anyway.  For the lid, I just spread out the two plastic bags my dirt came in (don't tell my uncle that I took those bags of dirt from his yard!) and picked up a $5 spade from Ross to help me with tossing the contents.  Yes!  Finally a place to dump my food scraps!

Another project that's been taking me quite a while to finish has been to make an overhanging trellis in a part of my patio.  The idea is for me to get some storm window plastic sheeting to attach to the trellis, making a "roof" of sorts.  Hopefully, I can get the peas and strawberries to grow and attach to the trellis so that I'll also have "shade" underneath the plastic sheeting.  I have my deep freezer (covered with the blue tarp) out there and I'd like to stick my bike there as well (to free up some room inside my apartment) and it would be pretty neat if I could keep both sheltered from the elements as much as possible.  On the same token, I was hoping that with the slight downward slope, I could catch whatever rainfall we could get and collect into a bucket.  Up until now, the limiting factor has been the number of 8ft x 1in wooden stakes I could pick up from the hardware store since they only carry about 2 a week and for the loooooooongest time, they didn't carry these at all.  What?  Don't people need 8ft wooden stakes to stake their fruit trees in the middle of the freaking winter?!?!

Anyway, complaints about lazy fruit-tree-staking people aside, I finally finished the main part of my trellis, and it's onwards to picking up some 6ft bamboo stakes (which will be a hell of a lot easier than the 8ft stakes) to tie on and the trellis will be done!

Just as an experiment, I opted to try my hand at hanging my long planter box since I have a crapload of kitchen twine.

Not exactly even but close enough!  Just for fun, I decided to hang my little peppermint (along with Vitamins A and C, menthol is really awesome in fighting inflammation) in there.  No planting today since I ran out of dirt and was too tired from all the work I had already done up until this point to haul my ass back to the hardware store.  When you're mentally juggling which is more work, to drive to the hardware store so you don't have to carry the dirt or to just walk to the store and CARRY the dirt, your brain will tell you that both options are still a lot of work and to call it quits for the day.

But, obviously, not before I turn my baby pallet garden into the anti-inflammation pallet garden!  Parsley (rich in anti-inflammatory Vitamin C), sage (contains rosmarinic acid which helps decrease inflammation), oregano (contains beta-caryophyllin, an inflammation inhibitor), and garlic chives.   Feeling rather proud of myself, I thought I was done for the day until I walked back into my apartment and saw all the empty (and clean!) yogurt cups I had laying on top of my fridge.  I also found a bunch of seeds I had stashed in a drawer and thought "what the hell".  Trying to grow actual viable plants from seeds is something that is still a challenge for me so why not give it a whirl?

So let me introduce them to you:  zucchini, golden zucchini (summer squashes are super rich in antioxidants such as alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, as well as omega-3 fats, combine for a powerful anti-inflammatory knockout punch), cosmic red carrots (Big T picked this one up last year simply because of it's awesome name), bitter melon (SO bitter but SO good for reducing inflammation!), red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, snow peas (peas contain special phytonutrients that work in conjunction with omega-3s and antioxidant Vitamins C and E to combat inflammation), cucumbers (contain a crap ton of antioxidants, like quercetin, which act as COX-2 inhibitors and preventing nitric oxide overproduction), and bok choy (a powerhouse of Vitamin A, 70+ phenolic compounds, and omega-3s, bok choy is a really good source of antioxidants which really do a lot to reduce chronic inflammation)!  So for the love of God please let SOMEthing sprout and turn into a viable plant!!!

(Before I forget, carrots are rich in Vitamins C, K, and super rich in Vitamin A.  Along with beta-carotene, they're also an awesome anti-inflammatory veggie to add to your belly!)

Whew, that's quite a bit of outside time that I was able to rack up in a week and there's definitely no complaints here of being blue.  I say mission accomplished!